If you are a US citizen or legal permanent resident (green card holder), and you are looking to get married and bring your spouse to the US as a legal permanent resident (LPR), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is going to be on high alert for marriage fraud.

There are certainly some people who try to take advantage of the US system which allows the spouse of a US citizen or LPR to also obtain their green card–a status which would grant permanent entry and work authorization in the United States to a foreign national, as well as the ability to eventually seek to become a naturalized citizen if so desired.

Penalties for Marriage Fraud in Immigration

Due to the serious threat marriage fraud could potentially pose to national security, there are severe penalties for committing this crime, including up to five years in prison, fines of up to $250,000, and deportation. Additionally, government officials tend to assume that marriages, where one of the spouses will receive LPR status, are fraudulent, and the burden of proof to show that the marriage is real will rest on the couple’s shoulders.

Factors That May Indicate Marriage Fraud

Below, we detail 12 red flags that may cause USCIS to suspect your marriage petition is fraudulent. None of these red flags will necessarily result in a further investigation on its own, but many of these factors combined could be a strong indication of marriage fraud.

  1. The couple doesn’t speak the same language. If one spouse speaks only English, and the other speaks only Spanish, officials will likely question the legitimacy of the marriage. If the couple can not speak to one another, it is highly suspicious that they actually fell in love and want to start a genuine life together based on legitimate pretenses.
  2. Numerous major differences in background. One or more major differences in the backgrounds of the couple could lead to questioning the legitimacy of the marriage petition. For example, if the spouses come from different cultures, practice different religions, have major differences in educational background, come from different races, or come from different social classes, all of these factors could cause officials to suspect fraud simply because statistics show that it is less likely for people from such different backgrounds to form the strong relationships that can lead to legitimate marriages.
  3. Not living together. Not only does a couple have to prove that their marriage is legitimate, but they also have to prove that they are making a good faith effort to begin a life together. One of the biggest signs of this is cohabitation. If a couple is married but not living together, officials may suspect fraud.
  4. Lack of interaction between spouses. A couple may live together, but immigration officials may see it as a purposeful ploy to trick them if the schedules of the couple cause them to rarely, if ever, interact. For example, if one spouse is always working while the other is home, and vice versa, this can be a red flag.
  5. Keeping the marriage a secret from friends and family. If it is clear that you have not shared your marriage with loved ones, immigration officials will wonder whether you intend to end the marriage soon after the foreign national spouse receives legal permanent resident (LPR) status. Common practice would be to openly share and celebrate your marriage with loved ones, and if you keep the marriage a secret, you will raise some red flags.
  6. Disparity of age. It is very possible for two people of drastically different ages to enter into a legitimate marriage, but it is far less common than two people of similar age getting married. As with the differences in the background we mentioned in Part I of this blog, statistics will cause USCIS officials to question the legitimacy of a petition where one spouse is much older than the other.
  7. Convenient timing. Officials will look closely at the timing of your marriage. Does the marriage happen to coincide with something such as one of the spouse’s visa expiring? If the timing of the marriage seems to be TOO convenient, it may be a red flag.
  8. Unusual marriage history. If the US citizen or current LPR has numerous divorces or numerous marriage-based immigration petitions in his or her history, officials will likely suspect some sort of fraudulent activity simply because this is out of the ordinary.
  9. History of fraud. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid serious scrutiny of the one spouse has been involved in a marriage fraud case in the past. If there is a history of fraud in either spouse’s history, officials will have no reason to believe this marriage is any different.
  10. Brief courtship. How long did you actually know your spouse before you got married? If the period of courtship was very brief, such as only a couple days, weeks, or even months, this will raise red flags that the marriage is not legitimate.
  11. Current US citizen or LPR is impoverished. If the current US citizen or LPR petitioner is impoverished, officials may assume that the marriage is part of a deal where he or she will be paid to marry someone from another country in order to help them obtain a green card. Remember that the petitioner must also be a sponsor, and so must show tax and financial information to the USCIS. As such, be aware that this could lead to further questions during your interview!
  12. Manufacturing evidence of shared life right before interview. If there is a no history of interaction, followed by a flurry of interaction between a married couple just before they are to be interviewed by USCIS, officials may suspect fraud. For example, if the couple did not live together or ever see one another, and then suddenly moved in and began doing things together like going on vacation, just before it is time to prove the legitimacy of the marriage, this can look suspicious.

Need Help With a Marriage-Based Petition? Call (510) 491-0291.

Proving the legitimacy of marriage for the purpose of obtaining a green card can be highly challenging and emotional. For dedicated help and advocacy for your marriage-based immigration petition, please contact Landerholm Immigration, A.P.C. today via online form or call (510) 491-0291.